State officials offer advice for preventing fires along highways

This photo from the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management shows where a fire burned April 25 along eastbound Interstate 40 between US 93 and Seligman. (Submitted photo)

Driving with chains dragging from vehicles, tossing cigarette butts out of windows or traveling with underinflated tires are all potential causes of fire along Arizona highways, according to state officials.

The Arizona Department of Transportation reported in a release that crews have been preparing for the summer by mowing vegetation along highway shoulders in the winter and spring. They remove brush, thin trees and spray fire retardant to prevent fires and slow the spread of those that occur.

But motorists have a role as well, according to ADOT officials who stated:

  • Dragging chains during towing can cause sparks. Check and secure tow chains and never substitute parts when towing.
  • Make sure nothing is hanging beneath a vehicle and dragging on the pavement.
  • Check tire pressure before you travel. Exposed wheel rims can cause sparks.
  • Don’t park in tall grass, as the heat from parts under a vehicle can start a fire.

Besides the danger to lives, property and the landscape, fires can snarl traffic as firefighters work along the highway and can lead to lengthy closures.

On April 25, for example, a rider whose motorcycle caught fire pulled into brush along eastbound Interstate 40 between US 93 and Seligman, igniting a fire that temporarily closed the freeway while firefighters managed to limit the blaze to 6 acres, according to ADOT.

“Each of us can do some simple things to cut down on the risk of fires along state highways, starting with checking tire pressure and making sure vehicles and trailers aren’t dragging something that can produce sparks,” stated Dallas Hammit, ADOT’s state engineer and deputy director for transportation. “On the road, please use common sense. One burning cigarette flying out a car window can start a wildfire.”

According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, dragging chains are among the main causes of fires along highways, including Interstate 17 heading into and out of the Phoenix area.

On May 9, dragging chains caused five brush fires along 8 miles of US 191 south of Safford. Firefighters prevented the fires from spreading beyond a tenth of an acre each, officials stated.

“We continue to get multiple fire starts along Arizona’s highways due to unsecured chains,” stated Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management. “The drought conditions and dry fuels equate to very high fire danger across the state. One spark is really all it can take to start a fast-moving wildfire.”

The Queen Creek Independent is mailed each month to 35,000 homes.

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